In our Writers and Music series, authors discuss the music that has either been included in their most recent project or the influence music has had on their work overall.
It was in the autumn of 1998, when I first heard Fugazi.
This was at a time in my life when I foundered, virtually drowning, on the shoals of addiction. I had dreams, but they were setting down, an evening sun. Saturated with chemicals and craving, I stood a shaky six foot three, weighed about a buck seventy five. It’s a wonder my best friend from Arkansas, who’d lately come out west to visit, recognized me. He might’ve considered staging an “intervention,” but that’s really not his style. Instead, he gave me a CD.
“Dude, you’ve got to listen to this,” my friend told me.
The CD was called End Hits.
“Who’s Fugazi?” I said.
My friend shook his head. “Just listen,” he reiterated.
Then, in the semi-darkness of a seedy little kitchen on 45th and Belmont, I proceeded to cue the disc up on a cheap portable player with busted belt clip, and tattered earphones, foam mostly rotted away. “Who the fuck are these guys?” I cried, after hearing the opening measure of a number called “Break” at maximum volume.
My friend smiled. I removed the headphones to hear his reply: “You can keep that…”
I’ve never stopped listening to it.
Now, a few lines from the song “Recap Modotti” come to mind:
…Recap in taxi,
No clothes, no food
Take care of the children
We’ll send for you soon …
Oh, I remember that version of me, in my sorry Belmont kitchen, pushing forty, possessed of all the pallor and disfiguration of a scarified poppy, and yet then, still, coming alive with the strains of that music – watching my own rail-thin shadow get down with its bad self on the wall, moonlight pouring through a little window above the sink: this shadow, who clutched a battered Sanyo CD player like a lucky hymnal, commencing to fist-pump, to hum and dream and hope via pantomime, the old hip sway with chest bump, my eyes glued to the ear drums insisting everything could still turn out okay, blown away by this strange new music -- beside myself:
you find you feel at home
you get by with so much less
than anyone …
My friend returned to Arkansas a couple days later.
I would not get clear of my chemical dependency for four more years; wouldn’t publish my own poem called “Abduction” – (about aliens, transubstantiation, hospice and hope; and borne upon the current of the aforementioned music, surely as I’m sitting here) – for four years beyond that. But I’ll never forget the night I heard Fugazi for the very first time. No turning point, per se, but a vector, a euphony I can still point to – its sonic trajectory a little ahead of me, and a touch behind, recursive and propulsive at one remove, like a riff you simply can’t get out of your mind. Or a friend, who comes to visit from far away:
…Outside my window
the passing night sky
full of people I know
Today, I’m totally engrossed in a You Tube video: a talented filmmaker has put together some stunning imagery to accompany the Fugazi song “Turkish Disco.” Behind Brendan Canty’s signature snare drum cum tom-tom pulse, and Joe Lally’s bass line (thumping like a dogged hot spring of the heart’s natural magma) – there, on the screen sits a forlorn barn, cupped by this cozy pastoral snow bank. And as the song commences, this barn slowly begins to change colors, hue to hue to hue, as the haunting bars drive by:
Rust -- to russet. Vermilion, bleeding cerise. Baby shit blue morphing into stone cold indigo. Forlorn forest green, in time, becoming lime.
Reader, believe me: I’m happy as hell to be a fan of Fugazi.